Patriots' timing is perfect
Clutch plays allow them to go to 6-0, win 21st straight
FOXBOROUGH -- As the newspaper of record, we must inform our readers that yesterday's 13-7 Patriots victory over the New York Jets broke the NFL record for consecutive regular-season victories. The team has 18, 21 overall.
We also had to inform the participants.
"Is that right?" said Patriots wide receiver David Patten, who caught what held up as the winning touchdown pass from Tom Brady from 7 yards out with five seconds remaining in the first half. "I didn't know that. It is what it is. It's a sign we've done a great job to this point, but we have two-thirds of the season to play."
Coach Bill Belichick said that neither before nor after the defensive struggle did he mention the NFL record. In fact, he said, "[I] didn't say one word about it." What meant more than the amazing streak of excellence was that the Patriots took sole possession of first place in the AFC East by beating their divisional rivals, a team that wasn't quite ready to knock the dynasty-in-the-making off its game.
It was another instance of the Patriots (6-0) doing what they had to do at the most opportune time, just as in so many of their other wins. A team that hates to mention individual accolades got 115 yards on 22 carries from Corey Dillon; five receptions for 107 yards from David Givens, who shouldered the load with Deion Branch and Troy Brown out with injuries; and a 20-for-29 (for 230 yards and one TD) performance from Brady, who had a gaudy 104.1 quarterback rating. New England also gave tremendous effort on defense, holding the Jets to 268 total yards of offense and held Curtis Martin to 70 yards on 20 carries.
And like most games during the streak, the opposition had a chance to overtake the Patriots at one time or another. When that time came, the Patriots, who have asserted themselves as the best late-game team in football, usually make a huge stop or break the opposing team's rhythm.
Such a play occured on third and 5 from the Patriots' 27 with 2:48 remaining when Martin ran his patented draw play and the Patriots were ready to seize the moment once more.
Richard Seymour pushed the pocket from the right end. Willie McGinest came from the back side and once again made one of his amazing stops, a la the one he made against Indianapolis last season, or the one against Tennessee. He nailed Martin for a 3-yard loss, the same Martin Belichick said during the week never makes negative plays. Until that moment, he had not.
"In that situation, you have to play the run first," McGinest said. "I had my half and Richard had his half and we came together and made a play."
It wasn't the final play for the Jets (5-1), either, but the Patriots took care of that as well. On fourth and 8, Chad Pennington threw downfield to Wayne Chrebet. The veteran slot receiver was covered well all day by free agent rookie Randall Gay, and he once again was all over Chrebet. The Patriots figured Pennington would look for Chrebet for such an important throw and Rodney Harrison came over to break up the play, preserving the victory.
"We knew [Chrebet] was getting the ball all along," said Harrison. "He's a fantastic receiver." But the Patriots have concentration, maturity, "and we don't panic," Harrison said. "We go through a lot of situational football, so when it is a critical moment, we don't panic. Someone always steps up and makes a play."
The Jets rebounded from a 6-0 deficit with a touchdown with 1:55 to go before halftime. The score capped a 13-play, 78-yard drive, 23 of which came on Martin's running (he surpassed Jim Brown for seventh on the all-time rushing list). Pennington, who went 6 for 6 on the drive, kept the ball for the 1-yard score.
That's normally enough time for the Patriots to recover. And they did.
After Bethel Johnson's 28-yard return, which let the Patriots start the drive at their 38, Brady went into his two-minute offense, tossing to Johnson for 14, Kevin Faulk over the middle for 24, Faulk for 5 more, and Patten for 11. The Jets' Dewayne Robertson then was flagged for roughing the passer, which placed the ball at the 7. Brady stepped up on the pocket and found Patten in the back of the end zone for the score to give the Patriots a 13-7 halftime lead.
"I always expect he's going to find me," Patten said of Brady. "That kid is unbelievable. The tight end ran a hook route and I think took the safety over with him and that left me free at the back of the end zone and Tom never misses us when we're out there."
The Jets entered the game as the least penalized team in the league and had the third-best turnover ratio. One turnover and six penalties killed them.
The Patriots got a 41-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri with 8:33 remaining in the first quarter, and a 27-yarder with 9:31 remaining in the second quarter.
There was a third-quarter lull as both teams had extended drives that didn't lead to anything until Corey Dillon sprang up the middle on a nice lead block by guard Stephen Neal and raced 44 yards to the Jets' 41.
The Jets caught a break when John Abraham leveled Dan Klecko on a pass reception, which caused a fumble, and left Klecko writhing with a leg injury.
The ball was recovered by Eric Barton at the Jets 39, but the Patriots' defense forced a punt. At that point Dillon, who was the first 100-yard rusher the Jets had allowed this season, began icing the game for the Patriots.